Physical symptoms of anxiety can be mild or severe and for some people are worse than the mental symptoms. The physical symptom which worries people most is a racing heart or palpitations. Often with anxiety the heart can race to similar pulse rates as if you were running, and for many people this is the beginning of a panic attack.
As anyone who works in an Emergency Room or an Accident and Emergency department will tell you, it is very common for people to be admitted who are convinced they are having a heart attack. In fact this racing heart is just the bodies way of preparing for danger, the fight or flight response. Like all physical symptoms of anxiety, it is harmless.
The second most common symptom of anxiety is often described as tightness in the chest. This tends to be a combination of two things: a slight narrowing of the airway caused by the increased blood flow through the veins in the neck and hyperventilation. The combined effect is a feeling that we can’t breath, but this is just a feeling. In fact our breathing is working fine, again the fight or flight response is preparing us for action. The problem is that as we feel we can’t breath so we try to breath more and end up gasping for breaths we don’t need, when in fact we want to be slowing down our breathing, and taking calming belly breaths instead of fast shallow chest breaths.
Other physical symptoms of anxiety include tingling in the limbs, which is caused by blood being diverted to the core of the body, and a feeling of weakness which comes about for the same reason.
How do I stop the physical symptoms of anxiety?
The best way to stop anxiety symptoms is to start off the Parasympathetic Relaxation Response. This natural nervous system response to the fight or flight response is designed to calm us down after the danger has passed. As there is no real danger from an anxiety attack or a panic attack we can calm ourselves down immediately quite safely.
How do we set the relaxation response in motion? Well, there are several ways. Meditation is one and I recommend Mindfulness Meditation, which will also help you become aware of your breathing and recognize when you are hyperventilating unnecessarily. Learning to meditate takes time and commitment but will be worth it.
In the meantime, you can elicit the relaxation response by re-breathing carbon dioxide by breathing into a paper bag, or my concentrating on things at the periphery of your vision.
Remember though one important thing. the physical symptoms of anxiety are harmless!